Her hometown was small, and most people did know her; but Seelie was not the customers’ favorite employee at the Food Star, its only grocery. She muttered and mumbled, blushed and dragged her feet — the store owner once told her husband, “You’d never know how Seelie was raised, she can balance a drawer in two shakes and she knows the store top to bottom. I’d make the child night manager, so she’d at least have some extra money now that crazy fortuneteller mother of hers is gone, but I’m afraid the first emergency she’d burst into tears and run right out the door. Any little thing and she’d vanish like a rabbit.”
Miz Huff was wrong, though. Seelie didn’t cry about little things. She’d cried when Mama died (even though Mama’d read it in her own cards, weeks before) and she was crying now, but out of true deep panic. The charm was all she had left protecting her of Mama’s magic. Mama never said what would happen if it was lost. Seelie had promised Mama over and over she could be trusted to keep the charm safe till it had done its work — and now it was gone.
She sat on the edge of the bed, shook her sock again. It was so very small. Had it slipped out? Hidden in a corner of her scuffed shoe? Somewhere her tired feet hadn’t explored a thousand times during her shift? No.
Although Seelie set her alarm and lay down she did not sleep, wondering where the charm had gone. The next morning she was exhausted and felt like she was walking through mud, all the way up to her chest. Seelie pushed her nondescript hair back with a gray headband that matched her work smock, and did not look in the mirror. She was on time to work, just like always, but when she shoved her time card into the machine, the thunk as it stamped made her jump, and her eyes grow wide.
“Bless her heart,” thought the manager. If she’d been a fanciful kind of woman, or a literary one, she might have likened Seelie to a faded Alice in Wonderland.
An effort of will and her understanding of what the landlord would do should she not make the rent were all that kept Seelie moving that morning.
She was even quieter than usual, something no one who knew her would have thought possible. She forgot to breathe, then panted till she almost passed out. The meager lunch in her crumpled brown sack, once eaten, was deposited almost as quickly in the break room sink.
The manager jumped to hold her hair back, and wiped Seelie’s burning face with a paper towel damped with cool water. “Girl, you are sick! You shouldn’t have come in today. . .you’ll get everybody sick, us and the customers too. Stay back here, I’ll start that Wilkins boy early, I saw him hanging around…”
Seelie slumped over the table. She began to cry quietly, wiping her eyes with a napkin from the holder.
Soft cloth brushed her cheek — an old-fashioned handkerchief, she saw, held by a youngish man, about her age. “That Wilkins boy”, a recent hire.
“Hi, you’re Seelie, aren’t you? I’m Jake. Miz Huff said you weren’t feeling good. I’m real sorry, I know how it is, I always wind up trying to go to work, too, when I’m sick. Don’t cry. I bet you go home and get some sleep, maybe a little soup, you’ll feel better. I always do.”
Seelie could see why Miz Huff, always maternal, called him what she did. “Thanks for the handkerchief.” Jake’s large hands had gestured widely as he talked, and his feet tapped, body turning, even while she felt his attention was still on her. “Are you — looking for something?” she asked.
“I gotta find the lost and found box, I came early to put this in before I start working, I’m sure somebody’ll come looking for it.” His hand dove into a pocket and came out with a jewelry box. He opened the box, held it out to her — miracle! There was her charm, nestled carefully into cotton batting, shinier than she’d ever seen it. “Pretty, isn’t it?” Jake said.
“You — didn’t find it like that,” Seelie said, reaching out to touch it with a finger. It was warm.
“Huh? Oh, I shined it up, and put it in the box. I’m sure it only got lost because it’s so tiny.” Jake’s fingers dangled a heart-shaped silver charm, thumbnail-sized, with “Celia” barely legible on it. “Although I’da sworn it was smaller than this when I found it.”
“It was always small,” she said, voice faint. “It’s mine.”
“Hey! Seelie, that’s a nickname for Celia, isn’t it! I’m such a dummy. It’s real pretty, just like you. It’s a locket? I couldn’t get it open.” He smiled at her. The pale blue headband set off her blonde hair, and matched her smock and her eyes just so.
He gave her the charm, but the two of them only looked at each other. Seelie was able to twist the now-pulsing silver heart in her hands without Jake seeing and get it back into the cardboard box. It barely fit now. She crushed the top back on and hid the crumpled parcel in her fist.
“I guess I’ll go home,” she said finally.
“That’s what Miz Huff said.” Jake spoke fast. “Can I call you later, Seelie? Check you’re feeling better?”
“You sure can.” She plunged the hand holding the box deep in her purse; pulled out a pen and wrote her number with a flourish on his palm, along the heartline.
As he watched her leave, he thought he heard a fairy-sized silver note sounding from the purse in rhythm with her stride. Not a locket, then, he thought. One of those bell things. The two of them handling the heart must have knocked something loose inside.
Lydia Ondrusek is a long-married mother of two engaged in writing her way out of a paper bag. She releases her inner feline at www.thelittlefluffycat.com, and has fiction available online at Sniplits, BURST Literary Ezine, Flash Me, and Flash Fiction Online.